Review by KC Carlson
Archies fans have something to look forward to in their Christmas stockings this season: A brand-new Archies CD! The Archies Christmas Album featuring Betty and Veronica is the first all-new collection of Archies music in … 37 years! Yikes!
With that amount of time passed, you might well expect that there have been a few changes — and there have! — beginning with the billing of the band. Now known as “The Archies featuring Betty and Veronica”, the girls have stepped up to the mike, providing the lion’s share of the lead vocals on the new disc. Former lead singer Archie Andrews has taken a supporting, but important, role as the CD’s producer, but he still takes the lead on some of the more traditional rockin’ songs like “Jingle Bell Rock” and “Run Rudolph Run”, as well as one of the two new songs, “Christmas in Riverdale”. He also takes the solo in the other “new” song, “Archie’s Christmas Party”, a seasonal re-write of the original “Archie’s Party”. And if you listen carefully, you can hear Archie “doubling” many of the girls’ vocals throughout the album.
The Archies sound has evolved a bit over the years as well. There’s a couple of credits for “programming” here, and Jughead’s drums and Ronnie’s keyboards are a bit more electronic since the last time we heard them. But Archie and Reggie can still rip into the occasional guitar solo! Betty and Veronica’s vocals are still bouncy and punchy, but oddly they sound much younger than they they did in the 1960s. Time works funny in the Archie Universe!
As you can tell by the title, this is a Christmas CD, packed with traditional holiday songs including “Here Comes Santa Claus”, “Holly Jolly Christmas”, “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”, and “Sleigh Ride”, all performed in the patented Archies upbeat style. Plus, the CD is on the Fuel 2000 label — the same folks who did the Absolutely the Best of The Archies CD in 2001. So you can buy with confidence that this isn’t another in the long line of Archies rip-off CDs. The cover features some great Dan DeCarlo artwork, and there’s a nice Rex Lindsey Christmas piece inside.
This is a great CD for the car, and it will put a big smile on your face while you’re driving around making all your holiday preparations. It’s also a great CD to introduce a new generation (or two!) to the happy, peppy, bouncy world of the Archies — the Royalty of the great Cartoon Bands!
[In the "real" world, Archie is still voiced by the still-great Ron Dante, who sang on all the original Archie albums. He's the mastermind and producer behind the entire project -- something that he's been wanting to do for years! It's great to see Ron finally get his Christmas wish! The new Betty and Veronica are sung by Danielle van Zyl and Kelly-Lynn (don't know who's who, though). Another music vet from way-back, Bo Donaldson ("Billy Don't Be A Hero") is credited for keyboards.
As much as I'm glad to see Ron Dante back -- and hoping for a non-holiday Archies CD in the future (if this one sells!) -- as a fan, I still miss the contributions of Toni Wine, Jeff Barry, and Andy Kim from the original albums. It's not quite the same -- but still pretty darn good!]
Speaking of Ron Dante, another of his “lost” albums has finally resurfaced on CD: Tracy by The Cuff Links. The hit single, “Tracy” (#9 US), was on the charts just after the Archies’ #1, “Sugar Sugar”, both sung by Ron Dante! Ron sings on most of the songs on this CD, many of them slightly more mature than the Archies material — especially the poignant “All the Young Women,” a song still as moving and timely today as it was in 1969. The CD is on the UK Poker label, a division of Cherry Red.
After I heard the news about Alvin leaving the Chipmunks, and temporally thinking that Archie Andrews was being pushed aside by those back-stabbing girls (you just can’t trust ‘em!), my first thought was — supergroup? Alas, it was not to be. The Alvin story was just a publicity stunt for the new Alvin and the Chipmunks CD Undeniable.
It was quite amusing to see Johanna’s head explode while listening to the ‘Munks version of the Rocky Horror Picture Show’s “Time Warp” and watch most of our stuffed animals run screaming from the room. (Poor Stitch! He’s got the largest ears of all!) Although I have to wonder about some future dinnertime conversation somewhere in America: “Mommy, what’s a pelvic thrust?”
I, however, am a Chipmunks fan from way back, ever since I received the Chipmunks a Go-Go album as a gift in 1965. This album features the ‘Munks tackling some of the big hits of the day including “What’s New Pussycat?”, “Mr. Tambourine Man” (pre-Shatner!), “King of the Road”, and “The ‘In’ Crowd”. I was also a big fan of Chipmunk Punk (1980) with “My Sharona”, “Let’s Go”, and “Call Me.” Since then, you don’t want to know how many Chipmunks albums there’ve been. (A lot.)
Undeniable follows the same format: current pop hits covered by grown men who inhale a lot of helium. No, no! it’s really by formerly animated cute and fuzzy chipmunks (now CG, of course)! And– What? Excuse me?… Um, I’m now being reliably informed that the Chipmunks are actually some sort of studio trickery. Like Guns N’ Roses. Thanks a lot, buzzkill!
Anyway, Undeniable is actually pretty good “novelty” music, a genre that was once huge and now almost nonexistent. Although the movers and shakers behind the Chipmunks would probably cringe at the “novelty” label, since the Chipmunks are now so focused at the children’s market. And you know what, this is a great kids’ CD, especially for the parents who have to listen to it over and over (and over and…). I can think of a lot of other “children’s music” that would make me smash my head against the wall long before the Chipmunks would.
That said, the ‘Munks cover such artists as Peaches and Herb (“Shake Your Groove Thing”), Bob Marley (“Three Little Birds”), Blink 182 (“All the Small Things”), Daughtry (“Home), Boyz II Men (“Thank You”), Journey (Don’t Stop Believin”), and even Led Zep (“Rock and Roll”). It’s a little creepy when the boys sing with “real” people. Drew Seeley (on “Shake Your Groove Thing“) is no Ross Bagdasarian. And they completely miss the point of Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ on a Prayer”, leaving out the vocoder riff (owa owa owa owa). Although, upon further thinking, perhaps they’re doing us all a great favor, as I suspect crossing the ‘Munk’s voices with a vocoder might actually open up some kind of horrible dimensional rift. (It could happen.)
But in the end, I think “Time Warp” is my favorite, just for the sheer bizarreness factor. It features an odd “Twilight Zone” riff intro and has some great vocal “acting” by Alvin, attempting to channel Richard O’Brien. It’s also the only track here to feature the Chippettes, the femme version of the Chipmunks. (I think. Who can really tell, anyway? I mean, really?) Besides, that Jeanette is really a babe. You gotta watch out for those “girls with glasses” types. (A complimentary copy of Undeniable for this review was provided by the record label, Razor and Tie.)